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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

MEN   OF MATHEMATICS
additional extempore remark, and the reader was so interested
in each one that he was not in the least aware of the flight of
time, or of the amusement of the audience. When he had dis-
patched the last of the notes, he looked up at the clock, and was
horrified to find that he had kept the audience an hour and a
half before beginning to read the poem they had come to hear.
The astonishment on his face was answered by a burst of good-
humoured laughter from the audience; and then, after begging
all Ms hearers to feel at perfect liberty to leave if they had
engagements, he read the Rosalind poem.*
Doctor Franklin's estimate of his teacher sums the man up
admirably.: kSylvester was quick-tempered and impatient, but
generous, charitable and tender-hearted. He was always ex-
tremely appreciative of the work of others and gave the
warmest recognition to any talent or ability displayed by his
pupils. He was capable of flying into a passion on slight provo-
cation, but he did not harbour resentment, and was always glad
to forget the cause of quarrel at the earliest opportunity.*
Before taking up the thread of Cayley's life where it crossed
Sylvester's again, we shall let the author of Rosalind describe
how he made one of his most beautiful discoveries, that of what
are called 'canonical forms'. [This means merely the reduction
of a given 'quantie* to a *standard* form. For example asc2 -f
2bxy -f ct/a can be expressed as the sum of two squares, say
X* + Y3; oa?5 + $bx*y + lOezr8!/2 -f 10dV + 5eo^4 + fy*
can be expressed as a sum of three fifth powers, Xs -f- Y5
-f- Z.] ,
VI discovered and developed the whole theory of canonical
binary forms for odd degrees, and, so far as yet made out, for
even degrees* too, at one sitting, with a decanter of port wine
to sustain nature's flagging energies, in a back office in Lincoln's
Inn Fields. The work was done, and well done, but at the usual
cost of racking thought - a brain on fire, and feet feeling, or
feelingless, as if plunged in an ice-pail. That night we slept no
more.* Experts agree that the symptoms are immistakable. But
* This part of the theory was developed many years later by E. K.
Wabeford (1894-1916), who lost his life in the First World War. lNow
God be thanked who has matched us with his hour* (Rupert Brooke).
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